The top 5 best hikes in Japan 全国の最高ハイキング
Escape into Japanese nature
Discover the natural wonders of Japan through our selection of the best hikes to do across the country!
Hokkaido: the natural park of Daisetsuzan
Daisetsuzan National Park is a mountain range located in the center of Hokkaido Island. It has pockets of snow that last even during summer, which earned it the name: in Japanese, daisetsuzan means "big mountain of snow". Daisetsuzan is also the largest national park in Japan and covers an area of 230,000 hectares. Hiking trails average between 1,800 and 2,000 meters. The greatest concentration of trails and mountain huts is around the Asahi-dake and Tokachi-dake peaks. These two active volcanoes are located in the northern and southern parts of the park and are linked by a hiking trail that can be completed in 5 days. Since mountain huts are often full, we recommend that you bring your camping gear for more tranquility.
- The environment of Daisetsuzan
The park has a rich fauna and flora. Don't miss visiting if you visit Hokkaido in July: there are fields of wild flowers as far as the eye can see! If you're lucky, you'll glimpse squirrels, pika (ochotona) and foxes abound in the rocky peaks. Be careful however, bears are also present in the area: before leaving, don't forget to bring a bell, whose sound scares them off.
Tohoku: the three sacred mountains of Dewa sanzan
From the sixth century hermits roamed the sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan: Haguro-san (representing birth), Gassan (representing death) and Yudono-san (representing the resurrection). At the top of each of these mountains, you will find a temple, although Mount Haguro is considered the center of the mountain trio, as it's where the gods of the three mountains are represented. Prominent Buddhist priests such as Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon sect, or En-no-Gyoja, founder of Shugendo, have walked the paths of these sacred mountains. Thousands of devotees visit the region every year during the seasonal pilgrimage that takes place in August. Among them, you will certainly see mountain hermits, yamabushi.
The last week of August is followed by the shugyo weekly pilgrimage. It ends with a festival, the Hassaku matsuri, where a ritual fire sets the night.
Although it is possible to traverse the three mountains in one day, we recommend a two-day hike to take full advantage of the unique landscapes available to you.
- The environment of Dewa Sanzan
The volcanic region surrounding the Gassan and Yudono Mountains is popular with travelers, with its wildflowers growing during the summer season and 130 kinds of highland plants. Note: Mount Gassan remains snowy even in August and it's possible for ski buffs to hit some slopes at this time of the year!
Rising to only 414 meters, Haguro-san is the smallest of the three mountains. Unlike the other two, buried under snow in winter, it remains accessible throughout the year. The hiking season for Gassan is officially open between July 1st and mid-October, although it's possible to access the mountain one month before and after these dates. Ask if you plan to hike out of season.
The temple on Mt Haguro
A yamabushi hermit
Old cedars wrapped with sacred rope, called jiji-sugi, are more than 1,400 years old.
Tokyo: Mount Fuji
In any season, the highest mountain in Japan (3,776 meters) is the object of admiration for many Japanese and foreign tourists. Visible from Tokyo on a clear day - though a hundred kilometers separates the mountain from the capital! -, the best times to see Fuji are at the end of fall, winter and early spring. On the paths of Fuji, you'll meet hikers of all ages.
The official season for climbing Mount Fuji is very short: July 1st to August 31st. The route to the top of this sacred volcano is divided into 10 stations. Most hikers begin the climb from the 5th station. There's a choice of four trails: the shortest, Fujinomiya, will take you about 5 hours to go up and 3 hours to return. It's also one of the busiest (59,799 people in the summer of 2016)! The Yoshida and Subashiri trails are a little longer to climb; about 6 hours. Yoshida takes longer to go down: 4 hours, versus 3 for Subashiri. Finally, Gotemba is the longest of all routes: it will take you 7 hours to reach the top of Fuji, and 3 to return. For more details on Fuji itineraries, visit this site. Note that once you arrive at the summit, you will need an extra hour if you want to visit the crater.
- The environment of Mount Fuji
Did you know that the conical shape of Mount Fuji comes from three volcanoes, piled one on top of the other: they are the result of the explosive past of the sacred mountain. But don't worry, the last eruption was back in 1707. Mount Fuji is, in addition to being a national symbol, a protected site: it's part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. If the adventure of Fuji tempts you, don't forget to bring a garbage bag to bring your waste with you.
The view from the summit of Mt Fuji
Shikoku: the quasi-national park of Tsurugi-san
The creation of the quasi-national park dates back to 1964. Straddling the Tokushima and Kochi prefectures (Shikoku Island), the park covers an area of 20,961 hectares. Here you can discover Japan's deepest valleys: Okoke and Koboke Gorges, and Iya Valley. The second highest peak in the country is also Mount Tsurugi-san (1 955 meters).
- The environment of the quasi-national park of Tsurugi-san
The region of the quasi-national park of Tsurugi-san is known for its alpine flora, including miyama kuma-zasa (a kind of bamboo) and kome-tsuji (azaleas). These plants were even designated Natural Monuments in 1994! Come and admire the fields of kome-tsuji, from June to August. The park is also full of crystallized rock formations and deep green stones, the awa-ishi, which give their particular color to the rivers flowing through the park.
Whatever the season, rain is often present in the valleys, especially in summer. Plan on getting wet!
Mt Tsurugi, Shikoku
Iya Valley, Shikoku
Incorporated into Kirishima-yaku National Park in 1964, Yakushima Island and its trails have been visited by Japanese hikers since the Showa era (1926-1989). In 1993, it became the first Unesco site in Japan. The best season to walk the wild paths of the island is in spring and summer (May to September). The most courageous hikers can attempt it until December; beyond this period, snow covers the peaks of cedar island. Note also that the periods when the island is the most visited are around the holidays of O-bon (mid-August), the New Year, and during Golden Week (early May).
- The environment of Yakushima
The main attraction of the island is of course the ancient cedars, yaku-sugi. Giant cedars must be at least 1,000 years old to earn this title. Yaku-sugi cedars have the particularity, in addition to being the oldest in the country, of having rings and their sap much more concentrated in comparison with other trees of the same species. The oldest of all is the Jomon-sugi, and its trunk has an unbelievable circumference of 28 meters! It's estimated to be around 7,200 years old.
On the west coast of the island, you will be able to observe the spectacle of the nesting of loggerhead turtles and green turtles. Be careful, however, not to disturb this fragile process! To learn more about Yakushima turtles, visit Umigame-kan, a museum and environmental center dedicated to these animals.
It is possible to swim in Yakushima from May to September.